Nathan Rabin @ Sundance '10: Day Seven

Nathan Rabin @ Sundance '10: Day Seven

Blue Valentine: Watching Derek Cianfrance’s excruciatingly intimate drama Blue Valentine felt like reliving the most agonizing moments of every romantic relationship I’ve ever had, but in a good way. It’s an almost unbearably sad look at the death throes of a crumbling marriage between housepainter Ryan Gosling and sonographer Michelle Williams.

Gosling’s goofy underachiever is a devoted husband, loving father and gentle soul. He’s also a fuck-up who begins drinking early in the morning to cope with both a series of dead-end jobs and the nagging sense that the wife he adores and lives for doesn’t love or respect him any more and perhaps never did. The couple’s daughter worships her dad because he treats her more like a peer than a parent but Williams doesn’t want an affable man-child; she wants a partner and an equal and Gosling is unwilling and unable to assume those roles.

Blue Valentine juggles chronology as it switches back and forth between the dying stages of a marriage beyond repair and the giddy early stages of infatuation for maximum heartbreak. For Gosling, Williams is his soulmate, his everything; for Williams, Gosling is good enough until he isn’t. That imbalance proves fatal.

Blue Valentine has the ache and pain of real life. Ciancfrance lets agonizing silence speak volumes and a brilliantly chosen soundtrack convey emotions far too powerful and intense for mere words. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to Penny & The Quarters’ “You And Me”, the film’s centerpiece, without breaking into Pavlovian tears. Blue Valentine wrecked me: I sobbed like a baby throughout its last twenty minutes. I can’t remember the last time I had such a visceral reaction to a movie. As someone I follow on Twitter suggested, it’s the second coming of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind minus the science fiction, an unblinking, relentlessly honest and candid exploration of the life and death of a marriage though I fear my movie-frazzled mind (Sundance exhaustion kicked in hard about two days ago) can’t possibly do it justice.

Grade: A

Louis C.K “Hilarious”: I make a habit of interviewing the great Louis C.K every three years or so to perform a lengthy postmortem on his latest noble failure, whether the project in question is Pootie Tang or his sitcom Lucky Louie. I’m scheduled to interview C.K again in the near future but I don’t know what the hell we’ll talk about since his career is going great. He was hilarious in a big role as Ricky Gervais’ best friend in The Invention of Lying and has a reoccurring role on the increasingly awesome Parks & Recreation.

This Spring he’ll star in a comedy for FX that crossbreeds Seinfeld with Curb Your Enthusiasm and this year he became the first stand-up comedian to debut a performance film at Sundance. In the aptly named Louis C.K: Hilarious C.K delivers an apoplectic, wildly funny eighty-two minute rant about the insufferable whining of fat, complacent white people, the curious workings of his psyche, his decaying body and the nightmare of returning to dating after a decade of marriage.

C.K combines scatology with smarts, breathing new life into hoary topics like masturbation, feces and dicks. The veteran stand-up has a gift for finding the fantastical in the seemingly commonplace, like when he rails against people who complain about tiny glitches in their cell phone service or flights rather than appreciate how extraordinary it is that man can fly at all. Parenthood tends to neuter comics but being the single father of two daughters has only sharpened his wit; his material on his three-year-old daughter is bracingly dark and unsparing. There’s nothing particularly cinematic about C.K’s film but odds are you’ll be too busy laughing to care.

Grade: A-

The Perfect Host: In my Better Late Than Never piece on the first season of The Wire I singled out movies and television shows that use chess as an easy and ubiquitous metaphor as one of my pet peeves. So I wasn’t terribly surprised when a chessboard pops up in the pulpy black comic thriller The Perfect Host to convey that the film’s two leads, a bank robber on the run (Clayne Crawford) and a seemingly milquetoast fop played by David Hyde Pierce are engaged in a chess-like battle of wits.

A film that feels unmistakably like a night out at an Off-Broadway theater, the claustrophobic, theatrical thriller finds Crawford’s handsome crook hiding out in the home of a seemingly innocuous stranger (Pierce) preparing for an elaborate dinner party. Crawford isn’t able to maintain the fiction that he’s a friend of Pierce’s friend for very long, leading to a series of twists and reversals. The film’s main draw is the novelty of seeing the eternally typecast Pierce—who is perhaps too busy cashing Frasier royalty checks to take on many lead roles—cycle through radically different personas as his shape-shifting character mutates dramatically every half-hour or so. Pierce is clearly having a ball but this gimmicky, superficial exercise in audience manipulation is unpredictable in an awfully predictable way.

Grade: C